‘Britain In/Out of Europe – What is Best for Peace?’ This was the theme of UfP Annual conference 2015 at the House of Lords on 9 November. The event, attended by some 90 people, marked the beginning of UfP’s Europe for Peace campaign surrounding the EU referendum debate and the crucial role of the European Union in maintaining peace in society.
The originators of the European Unity project had aimed to institutionalise the idea that ‘Jaw Jaw is better than War War.’
Below are some of the key points raised:
Lord Robert Maclennan, former President of the Liberal Democrats, recalling searing childhood experiences of World War Two, declared that putting the European Union together, getting the countries of Western Europe to settle their differences peacefully was miraculous. He feared a ‘Brexit’ could cause the EU to disintegrate and advocated “ever closer Union”. Insufficiently aware of the risks of pulling out, the British public would stand to lose lose not just inward investment, our voice in the world.
Jean Lambert MEP, of the Green Party, stated “the strength of the EU is all about working together for the common good.” The EU facilitated the peaceful re-unification of Germany, assisted Eastern European members to become stable, and poured financial support into Northern Ireland, easing the peace process. Yet moves to boost military cooperation and closer alignment to NATO are a cause for concern.
Brendan Donnelly, Director of the Federal Trust and ex-MEP said the originators of the European Unity project had aimed to institutionalise the idea that “Jaw Jaw is better than War War”. The success of the EU had made war unthinkable. Brendan felt that often people speak mistakenly of ‘surrendering’ sovereignty; but the EU is a system of shared sovereignty.
Lord Roger Liddle of Labour said the EU had achieved a miracle in healing Europe’s past wounds, but was now threatened by the rise of populist nationalism in several states. Currently caught between intergovernmental cooperation and a federal system of democracy, only ‘more Europe’ and ‘more democracy’ could be the answer for the EU. Lord Liddle claimed ‘more Europe’ was the only solution to the repercussions of the flawed Euro project and the migration crisis.
UfP Chair Vijay Mehta explained the institutional arrangements of the EU that had established Europe as a peaceful region, with the UK in a key role. Yet the EU now faces its greatest crisis – the Eurozone, migration and anti-EU populism: reforms are urgent. With EU states the world’s third major arms supplier, fueling instability and wars in poorer regions, Europe’s war profiteers have to be curbed. The free market and austerity agenda must become a participatory economy serving people’s needs; constructive engagement with Russia must replace close alignment with NATO. The UK should not withdraw, but lead in Europe to tackle its challenges.
Rev. Philip Foster, long time UKIP activist called the European Commission an unaccountable supra-national quasi-government. With some German politicians wishing to re-assert German hegemony in Europe via the EU; with the EU having committed aggression by helping depose democratically elected President Janukovich in Ukraine; the EU having replaced democratic governments in Greece and Italy during the Euro crisis; and Germany’s open door policy having worsened the migration crisis, tensions are high across the continent. Fearing a new European civil war, Philip felt that the UK needs to regain its sovereignty and leave the EU as soon as possible. [NB: Two other anti-EU speakers cancelled at short notice]
UfP Coordinator Rev. Brian Cooper added that EU eastern expansionism had threatened peace and stability in Europe by clashing with Russia’s legitimate security interests. The EU should finalise its borders and re-establish constructive dialogue with Russia.
Issues raised during the open forum included the importance of ‘developing a European identity’, especially in Britain; EU ‘soft power’ prioritised over militarisation; the transparency and accountability of EU institutions; the power of corporate interests on EU policies; what would a federal Europe mean in practice; and the need to bring Russia fully within the European family of nations.